Watch the Cricket World Cup, Ashes and Women’s Ashes – plus plenty more – on Lmi Sports Cricket in 2019
There is a steely resolution in English cricket to, in Ashley Giles’ words, “transform the game” in 2019.
Forged in the fiery criticism of England’s dismal 2015 World Cup and reinforced by the resolute strategies of Giles’ predecessor as director of cricket Andrew Strauss, that goal will have no more perfect platform to capture the public’s imagination than in the coming year.
Not since 1975 has the Cricket World Cup, then in its infancy, and the Ashes been staged on home soil in the same year and those events – combined with the prospect of a closely-fought Women’s Ashes and evolving domestic structure – could unite to swell a playing fan-base even beyond the England and Wales Cricket Board’s long-term ambitions.
For those with longer memories, this might just be the most glorious of summers, up there with 2005 and 1981; for those getting to grips with this game a truly wonderful introduction.
“Hopefully cricket will be at the forefront of everybody’s minds next summer, says Jos Buttler, “and if you allow yourself to dream it could be one hell of an English cricket summer.”
Perhaps there has never been more pressure on England’s players, but in captains Eoin Morgan, Joe Root and Heather Knight they have leaders capable of absorbing and thriving on that expectation.
Morgan received unqualified backing from Strauss in May 2015 after England’s World Cup exit at the group stage – the latter going on to outline a four-year strategy to put the team at the pinnacle of the global game.
At its heart lies a commitment to entertain and bat boldly, running the opposition ragged with cool calculation and merciless innovation. The tactics are supported by a lengthy batting line-up that – as Australia found to their chagrin during this summer’s 5-0 whitewash – keeps coming.
Morgan, tactically adept and cool under pressure, has guided England to nine ODI series in a row by sticking steadfastly to his objectives – even saying he would be prepared to drop himself if it gave England a better chance of winning their maiden 50-over global title.
Naysayers and the ranks of quality opposition that lie in wait next summer will point to England’s past ability to implode in knockout games – defeat to Pakistan in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy a jarring scar – but expect such memories to strengthen the hosts’ ruthlessness.
While Morgan’s stamp is firmly on his team, Root’s is drying fast, baked in the glow of an emphatic 4-1 defeat of India and resounding overseas series success against Sri Lanka.
Providing England avoid the stumble they experienced in 2015’s 1-1 series draw – not forgetting Ireland’s visit to Lord’s in July either – their pursuit of top spot in the rankings and the Ashes urn should be as compelling as it is realistic.
“We want to keep pushing, keep improving so guys are going to have to accept that on occasions they are going to miss out,” said Root after defeating Sri Lanka. “Having that environment will keep driving guys in possession forward.”
Competition has been key in turning around England’s form since the ramshackle defeat to Australia at the start of the year, but Buttler’s recall at the start of the summer was crucial – the 28-year-old, much like Ben Stokes and Sam Curran, dragging England forward when cracks appeared.
The top order remains a cause concern in English conditions and Australia’s seam attack must surely be chomping at the bit to grab the Dukes ball, but even should Steve Smith and David Warner return for the Ashes there remains a brittle look to Australia’s top order too.
By the time the teams contest the first Test on August 1, the Women’s Ashes will be resolved – the multi-format series drawing to what could be a show-stopping finale in Bristol a day earlier.
Danni Wyatt’s 57-ball century in the final T20 of the 2017 series epitomised England’s never-say-die spirit, the final 8-8 scoreline ensuring Australia retained bragging rights but highlighting the lack of daylight between the teams.
Australia again had the edge in November’s ICC World Twenty20 final, defeat denying England a second global title to go with their 50-over crown, and Knight was quick to throw her thoughts forward to Ashes salvation in the aftermath.
She and coach Mark Robinson have promoted a culture where emerging players are given the opportunity to help move the team forward, with wicketkeeper Amy Jones and spinner Sophie Ecclestone shining brightest of late; it continues the theme of breaking new ground – April bringing the news that Knight, Anya Shrubsole and Nat Sciver were among Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2017.
“Heather and Mark have been very, very brave – starting two years ago when England suddenly decided to jettison Charlotte Edwards, one of the greatest female cricketers we have ever produced,” says Sky Sports commentator Nasser Hussain.
That courage is opening other doors. The ECB’s strategy includes a long-term ambition to make cricket gender neutral and help make the women’s game self-sufficient.
“The women’s game is such an opportunity for English cricket,” says ECB chief executive Tom Harrison. “Women’s and girls’ cricket is up 18 per cent on last year and in All Stars we’ve doubled the number of five to eight-year-olds playing cricket for the first time. There are great signs there but there’s no question we’ve got an awful lot to do.”
Hence the advent of The Hundred – a competition that Harrison says from 2020 will expand the reaches of the game to a new audience while maintaining the high-calibre of cricket witnessed by many in domestic T20 – and the aspiration behind the South Asian Action plan to engage wider communities.
Giles’ in-box may not contain such controversial matters as Strauss encountered when he first took the reins in 2015, when the cricketing fates of Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen hung in the balance, but it is fulsome nonetheless.
With head coach Trevor Bayliss departing the scene in September a successor – or perhaps a couple should the role be split between Test and white-ball cricket – must be found ahead of a challenging winter programme featuring tours of New Zealand and South Africa.
Exciting does not begin to cover it.
Watch the ICC Cricket World Cup, the Ashes and the Women’s Ashes live on Lmi Sports in 2019! Before then watch every ball of England’s Test and ODI series against Windies – starting with the first Test on Wednesday 23rd January.